Copan was an expansive city in the first millenium AD, the center of a regional state, and marked the southeastern extent of the Classic Period Maya florescence. The Project for the Planning of Ancient Copan (PAPAC) is a long term effort to expand our understanding of the urban settlement of Classic Period Copan, for purposes of science and history and for conservation of cultural patrimony. Currently a very small area of the ancient city is owned and actively protected by the Honduran government; in fact only the ceremonial core, or Principal Group, is property of the Nation. More than 75% of all the ancient urban settlement sits on private and municipal lands and therefore is subject to modern development, looting, and the needs of landowners. Should these ruins be destroyed or otherwise compromised, world history will lose vital information not only for one of humanity's most intriguing ancient cultures, but for one of the most spectacular ancient cities ever discovered.
Initiated in 2004, PAPAC seeks to engage this situation primarily from the standpoint of longterm conservation of ruins, focusing on the ancient settlement throughout the Copan alluvial pocket of the Copan Valley. Working closely with the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History (IHAH), PAPAC directs the first valley-wide mapping effort conducted since the 1970s. This is complemented by strategic excavations at residential and ceremonial complexes that lie outside of the Principal Group (the city center). Excavation sites are chosen based on two criteria: 1) degree to which they are endangered by ongoing looting or development; 2) whether or not they factor into our hypotheses for intentional urban planning in antiquity. Thus, PAPAC tests interpretations for the extent and character of the ancient city while at the same time we document and protect its monuments and advance the anthropological study of Maya cities and their conservation.
PAPAC is also responsible for executing a complete inventory and re-housing of all the human burials discovered at Copan since the late 19th century. The Project also has been actively involved in assisting the Honduran government with plans for the fourfold expansion of the Copan National Archaeological Park, with proposing improvements to park security, and with plans for developing tourist and educational facilities. Moreover, PAPAC works to combine science, history, and conservation with education and public outreach. In cooperation with the IHAH, PAPAC sponsors annual lectures for the public in Copan, engages in the professional training of Honduran college students, and donates supplies to primary schools in local aldeas.
1. Fisheye view of PAPAC excavations in the El Bosque region of the National Park
2. View north of Copan alluvial pocket; forested area is National Park; denuded areas are private lands
3. Marc Wolf, PAPAC cartographer, at work in the Comedero region of the Copan Valley
4. View of base of Plaza A at Group 9J-5, situated on private land, excavated by Maca between 1996 and 1999.